Tuesday, January 8, 2008

9th Circuit Oral Histories

The National Law Journal has a story on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals oral history project. Michelle Dauber, Stanford, is one of the interviewers. According to the story, Dauber

is one of a corps of lawyers and professors who donate essential sweat equity to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society's Oral History Program. That group has collected more than 150 interviews from judges across the circuit. They include both district court and circuit judges.

The professor has embarked on a series of two-hour sessions with Reinhardt, squeezed into court breaks, questioning him on his political life before joining the bench, such as his high-level participation in Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 California presidential campaign. She is also inquiring about some behind-the-scenes details of just what happened in some of his more controversial rulings, on subjects like the right to die and capital punishment.

But Dauber hopes to go beyond just giving a flavor of what it's like to be a judge. The professor wants to explore the 9th Circuit as an institution, at a time that it went from a sleepy court far removed from the segregation battles of the South to becoming a lightning rod in American politics.

Starting with Reinhardt, Dauber hopes to explore a thesis via interviews with other appointees from late in Jimmy Carter's administration: that the judges who became such a target for American conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s actually weren't bomb throwers at all. They were establishment lawyers who understood the law from a certain point of view.

The terms for Reinhardt's oral history are not yet finalize, but "in general, the project's oral histories remain private until a judge steps down or passes away."

Reinhardt had given an oral history for the project a few years ago, which is public, but he decided to try it again.

"I thought I had been overly careful and less than totally candid in it, and when I thought about it, there wasn't much point in doing something like that," said Reinhardt, 76. "If I were going to have one, I should do one that's more honest."

Image credit: Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

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